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On Positive Action in Light of Tragedies

Holding Hands

If you’re like me, you’ve spent most of the morning watching the coverage of the tragedy at the theater in Colorado. It’s sad to know that things like this can happen, and that life is so fragile.

As I watch the coverage, I feel the anxiety build inside of me, the fear of losing somebody close to me or my own life in such a situation. Something that seems to be truly random, and out of our hands.

But that’s it, it’s just random. Beyond living our entire lives in a shell, I don’t know that there’s any way to protect yourself from something so unpredictable.

Coverage of events like this often leave me looking for a distraction, on a sub-concious level. That distraction can be life-consuming, like immersing myself in unproductive things on the internet, going shopping to take my mind off of things, or just feeling helpless and out of control, and losing valuable time to fear.

By now, you may be asking: what does any of the above have to do with financial planning?

I had a great meeting last night with new clients, where we were discussing how important family is to them and some relationships that they’d like to invest more time in. I believe that’s a pretty universal feeling, none of us feel like we’re spending as much time with our loved ones as we would like. So in response to tragedies like this, I suggest the following.

Reach out to someone.  Call the friend, aunt, or cousin that you’ve been meaning to reach out to.  Find out how they are doing, and share the events of your life with them.  Email someone you haven’t seen in a while and schedule coffee, dinner, or drinks.  Find a way to break away from the negative news that surrounds us on a day like today and put some energy into the people that you would miss and who would miss you if you couldn’t see them tomorrow.  Spend your time and money on your family and friends, on creating the connections that make life worth living.

Let your positive actions today be your memorial for those that no longer have the opportunity.

 

 

 

It Takes Time

I was speaking with one of my mentors yesterday afternoon, about something that I was frustrated wasn’t happening quickly enough for my preferences.  She reminded me of a simple lesson that I struggle with, but that’s worth repeating.  What she said was:

“It takes time”

I know that’s simple, but it is really powerful if you can pause and think about it.

It takes time to grow into new habits.

It takes time to learn new ways of thinking about your money.

It takes time to grow worthwhile relationships.

It takes time to reach your financial goals.

It takes time to build a business or a career.

It takes time to get out of debt.  

It takes time to become the person you want to be. 

This isn’t to say that we can sit by and do nothing and hope that our goals become reality.  Far from it.  We’ve got to work at it and strive for it. But we have to also understand that there are no shortcuts.  We can both strive for something better, and enjoy where we are on the journey.

Top Posts of June 2012

Below are the 10 most viewed posts on the Upperline Financial Planning Blog in June (word cloud from Wordle.net)

Certified Financial Planner - Top Posts of June 2012

  1. Student Loan Consolidation Deadline 6/30!
  2. 6 Tips for Refinancing Your Home – Financial Rules of Thumb Series
  3. “If You Don’t Get It Built, The Work Doesn’t Matter”
  4. Who Are Your Beneficiaries?  Are You Sure?
  5. Financial Rules of Thumb – A Planner’s Perspective
  6. Teaching Kids Using “Money As You Grow”
  7. Financial Rules of Thumb Series – How Much Should My Car Payment Be?
  8. A Financial Plan for When (If) You Get Laid Off
  9. 100 Minus Your Age? – Financial Rules of Thumb Series
  10. A Difference Between an Employee and an Entrepreneur

Student Loan Consolidation Deadline 6/30!

If you’ve got Student Loans, you need to be aware of this deadline and the opportunity it presents.

The Department of Education is offering the opportunity to consolidate student loans from a private lender with student loans held directly by the Department of Education.  The opportunity to consolidate these Direct Student Loans as well as any Family Federal Education Loans (also know as FFEL Loans) is going to expire on 6/30 and I think that it’s an amazing opportunity to simplify your financial life, as well as potentially benefit from other federal student loan program benefits such as forgiveness programs that are not available to loans issued by private lenders

A few key benefits:

This program would allow you to have one servicer and one payment for all of your eligible student loans.  That’s a huge benefit.  I’m always recommending to clients that they simplify their financial lives and consolidate accounts when possible, and this is a great opportunity to do just that.

You can save on interest.  Loans consolidated in the program will receive a 0.25% interest rate deduction on any private loans that are consolidated. The interest rate is fixed for the life of the loan, so you’ll lock in your current terms.  (If you sign up for automatic debit from your bank account, you can save another 0.25%.  That’s easy savings.)

Eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.  If you work for a public entity or certain 501(c)3 not for profits, you may qualify for the balance of your loans to be forgiven after making 120 contiuous payments.  This is a huge benefit for those of you that work in education but don’t qualify for the teacher student loan forgiveness programs, or for others who work for other not-for-profits.

To consolidate your Student Loans, go to www.studentloans.gov and log into your account.  If you’re eligible, you’ll have a message in the “Alerts” box on the top right of the page.  Here’s a link to the Department of Education’s Frequently Asked Questions about the program.

If you have any questions, please contact me and I’ll do my best to help you out!

100 Minus Your Age? – Financial Rules of Thumb Series

[This post is part of the Financial Rules of Thumb series.  Check out the rest here!]

Today’s rule of thumb is:

“100 minus your age equals the allocation you should have to equities in your portfolio”

The Upperline:  It’s far more important to know how much risk you’re comfortable with, than to use this as a guideline.

This rule of thumb is dangerous not because it’s generally untrue, as I think that this is often a reasonably appropriate guideline for many investors.  The problem is, if it’s not right for you, it could have huge consequences.  I often hear from investors that they’re taking more risk in their 401k because they’re younger.  Conversely I hear from investors nearing retirement that they’re moving their entire portfolio into bonds and Certificates of Deposit.

That may be exactly what they should be doing, but the problem is that those strategies don’t have value on their own.  Those strategies only make sense within the context of your personal risk tolerance and your family’s financial goals. Continue Reading…

“If You Don’t Get It Built, The Work Doesn’t Matter”

The above is a great quote from Seth Godin’s Blog today.  He references the work of architects and how it doesn’t matter how beautiful the plans are if the building never gets constructed.

I think Financial Planning operates in much the same way.   We can craft elegant financial plans for clients that will help them reach their goals.  We can generate pages of material to back up these plans, and present them in a beautiful manner.

But if we can’t help clients build those plans, brick by brick, month by month, it doesn’t matter.  We’ve given them beautiful blueprints for a building that will never exist.

What’s more important?  The plan, or the outcome?

We all need to focus more on the daily and weekly actions that will lead to successful years and ultimately to a life well lived, and with the financial resources that support our goals and dreams.  This reason is why an ongoing relationship with a financial planner that can help to guide and revise plans as life’s inevitable changes come at us is so important.  Writing a plan and putting it on your bookshelf isn’t going to help you reach your goals.  Regular consultations with a caring planner can.

Inherited IRAs: What You Need To Know

I’ve recently had issues with a few different clients recently who have inherited IRAs and are not clear on the rules surrounding them.  Here are a few questions that can help you understand the rules around your Inherited IRA.

  • Was it your spouse’s IRA?  If so, you can generally combine it with your own IRA.  This can greatly simplify your financial situation, but there can be reasons to maintain it separately (if there are children from a previous marriage who will ultimately inherit the remainder of this account, etc).  You will need to eventually take Required Minimum Distributions from this account, but typically not until after you’ve reached age 70 1/2.
  • Was it your parent’s or aunt/uncle’s IRA?  Or anybody else that you weren’t married to?  Things are a bit trickier with IRAs inherited from your parents.  You must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMD’s) on those assets by December 31st of the year following the account owner’s death.  The RMD rules are critical, and must be followed explicitly.  The tax penalties for not taking your RMDs on time are severe, so be sure you’re on top of this.  A simple calendar reminder in November of each year to check and be sure you’ve taken your distribution for the year can be enough to save you from a costly mistake.
  • Were you named as the beneficiary of the IRA?  Or did the deceased’s estate take ownership and transfer it to you through the probate process?  I realize this is a bit of industry jargon, but the distinction is critical.  If you were named as the beneficiary of the IRA, you can ‘stretch’ out the distributions from that IRA over the course of your working life, allowing you to extend and benefit from the tax-favored nature of the asset.   If you were not named as the beneficiary directly, you need to know how old the person whose IRA you are inheriting was when they passed away.  If they were over age 70 1/2, then you can take distributions over the IRS tables calculated based on their life expectancy.  If they were under age 70 1/2, then you must take the distributions over 5 years and the entire balance of the account must be completed distributed by December 31st of the fifth year after the IRA owner’s death.  (You can find the tables and other great information in IRS Publication 590, which has everything you’d ever want to know about IRAs).

The above general principles should help you stay on track when inheriting an IRA.  If you’ve got additional questions about your situation, please contact me and I’ll do my best to answer your questions.

Who Are Your Beneficiaries? Are You Sure?

I’ve been working with a client who is in the process of settling their deceased father’s estate, and dealing with the many issues that have arisen as a result.  One of the father’s retirement accounts was left without a named beneficiary, and it’s caused some issues that could have been easily avoided.  It’s hard enough for family members to deal with the emotional issues surrounding the loss of a loved one.  Take a few minutes today to make sure that the lack of (or an outdated) beneficiary information doesn’t further complicate their life at a difficult time.

Think for a moment.  Have you had a major life change?  Did you get married or divorced?  Did you have a child, or another child?  Are you certain that your beneficiaries are up to date?  That the person you want to inherit those assets will receive them?   Every planner I know has run across a situation where a previous spouse has inherited an asset long after the marriage was dissolved, simply because the beneficiaries weren’t updated.

Now, you might think that because you’ve updated your will, you’re all set.  That would be incorrect.  A number of accounts pass at death according solely to the beneficiary listed on the form so it pays to double-check.

So what accounts should you check?

  1. Insurance:  Do you have any life insurance policies?  That you purchased directly from the carrier?  That are provided at work?
  2. Retirement Accounts:  Any Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or pension plan that you have will have a listed beneficiary.  Are you certain that they’re up to date?
  3. 529 College Savings Plans:  These are a little different, as the beneficiary is the future college student, and that doesn’t change if you die prematurely.  You should name a successor owner to inherit and manage the account if you’re not around to do it.

A few minutes making a quick list of these accounts, with the beneficiary designations, would be a great list to include with your wills and other important documents.  It can go a long way to making a difficult transition easier, and giving you peace of mind that your affairs are in order.

Teaching Kids Using “Money As You Grow”

The President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability recently released a wonderful website and poster called “Money As You Grow”, targeted at helping parents and children have more conversations about money.

Talking about money with kids is a topic that often comes up when meeting with clients, and I’m glad to see such a well-done tool become available to the public.  It breaks down children into age ranges, from 3-5, 6-10, 11-13, 14-18, and 18+ and provides 4 specific pieces of financial education (called Milestones) focused on each age group.  Each ‘milestone’ comes with 4 activities that can foster conversation and understanding between children and parents on the topic.

It seems there was a shift some years ago, where money became a taboo topic.  Families don’t discuss money at the dinner table, and parents often try to hide money struggles from their children (which rarely works, just ask your adult children if you have them.  They know when things are good and when they aren’t).  It’s my hope that we can all talk more frequently about money.  The more we talk about something, the less scary it becomes and the better decisions we can all make.

Take a moment and check out the Money As You Grow tool, and please share your thoughts with me about it and other tips you’ve got on teaching children about money!

A Financial Plan for When (If) You Get Laid Off

We’ve all seen the news about the Times-Picayune no longer publishing on a daily basis, and the reduction in staff that will certainly follow such an announcement.  Beyond the obvious effects on all of us as readers, the lives of dozens if not hundreds of the employees who will be laid off are thrown into turmoil who are all facing a lot of difficult decisions in the aftermath.  It’s an unfortunate reality of the world we live in that news of layoffs is becoming all-too common.  I’ve been through it (I was laid off by Janus Mutual Funds in 2001 after the tech-stock bubble of 2000) and many of my friends have been as well.  The fact that it’s more commonplace doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

So what can you do when your financial world changes in a moment?  Start with the essential questions that I’m sure you have.  I think what you need to know right away is:

  • Is There A Severance Package?  If there’s additional money that you can expect which can help you with your transition, or is the check in your hand the last one you’ll be getting?
  • What’s Happening With The Health Insurance Plan?   Are employer-subsidized health insurance benefits going to continue throughout the severance period, or possibly longer?  Do we qualify for COBRA?
  • Is There Job Placement Assistance?  Has the company contracted with a placement firm to help those that have been laid off find new employment?
Once you’re past the initial shock, start to look ahead.  Here are 7 things to consider in those coming days:
  1. No Snap Decisions.  There are a lot of decisions to be made, but rushing decisions often leads to bad decisions.  Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to figure everything out the day you receive your paperwork.  Instead, take a deep breath and:
  2. Reconnect to Your Vision.  What would you do if you could do anything?  What have you been telling yourself that you’d always want to try?  Are there items in your answers that are worth pursuing at this time?
  3. Get Organized.  There will be a lot of decisions to make, and lots of deadlines to keep track of.  Without the routine of a daily job and the calendar at the office that you’ve become accusomted to, you can start to lose track of a lot of small details.  Get a calendar that you can trust, and start to put the important deadlines on them.  When do you need to turn in your COBRA paperwork?  Are there any deadlines around rolling over your 401k?
  4. Communicate With Your Colleagues.  If you were part of a larger-scale layoff, chances are you know many other people who are going through the same challenges you are.  Can you share questions and answers with some of your friends that you trust?
  5. Preserve Cash.  It may take longer than you think to land the new job you’ve been hoping for, or it may not offer some of the benefits that your previous job did.  Saving your cash can give you more choices and stability while you work your way into the next phase of your professional life.
  6. Remember That You’re Not Alone.  There are people around you who love you and who are there to lend a hand.  Be thoughtful and reach out to them.  You’d want to do whatever you could to help them if the shoe was on the other foot, so don’t let your ego stop you from asking your friends for introductions, job leads, or just a shoulder to lean on.
  7. Believe in Yourself and the Future.  Know that transitions are always hard, and know that you’ll come out of the other end stronger for it.

With some focus and smart decisions, you can land on your feet and hopefully look back one day at how far you’ve come from these difficult times.

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